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Los Angeles Ballet’s Notable “The Sleeping Beauty”

March 2, 2015

It’s all shiny and assured good news for Los Angeles Ballet — as well as the evolving character of Princess Aurora — in the lean, deftly satisfying production of “The Sleeping Beauty” that L.A. Ballet founders Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary have been debuting this winter in four different SoCal theaters. The third concert in L.A.B.’s year-long Tchaikovsky Trilogy — “Swan Lake” and “Nutcracker” preceded it — this convincing after-Petipa “Sleeping Beauty” is both a great ticket and a heartwarming achievement in a city that is currently a century late in securing a lasting indigenous ballet company.

Under Christensen and Neary, the 9-year-old Los Angeles Ballet operates on a crafty, 21st-century model — a sleek company of 37 or so travels with taped music bringing great Balanchine repertory and full-blown story ballets to audiences in their neighborhood theaters. The nomadism is certainly building unshakeable and sophisticated dancers as the years go by, as well as developing convivial, cozy audiences. Last weekend at the handsome Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge, the 2nd of four “Sleeping Beauty” tour stops, L.A.B.’s company principals comfortably nailed the deviously exposing Petipa feats — multiple turns, brutal balances, leaping jumps, fish dives, et al — while the audience’s relaxed energy organically grew to high enthusiasm.  Together, it seemed, mutual energies heated over the 3-act ballet — exactly what should be happening for a young hometown team that’s proving to be a winner.

Matching Tchaikovsky’s dreamy score with strong production values goes a long way to cue this fairy tale, and the opulent sets and costumes by David Walker, originally created for a 1977 Royal Ballet production, provide the right note of layered enchantment. Marbled halls and sylvan depths are unfurled, inhabited by a royal court plumed in white wigs and bejeweled velvets, celebrating the arrival of the royal princess.  The fairies arrive to the christening in perfect dinner-plate tutus, quirky and courtly spell casters in an ever pleasing array of florals. Though there’s no sustained darkness in this production — the ensuing fights with evil, overlooked Carabosse (Colleen Neary) are settled quickly — the inventive flying-monkey henchman that support the angered fairy, along with Neary’s steely cursing pantomime, provides a successfully sharp and pointed dynamic (not unlike the later, fateful pinprick).

After five or more seasons with the troupe,  the core of featured principals on Saturday night — Allyssa Bross (Aurora), Allynne Noelle (Lilac Fairy) and Kenta Shimizu (Prince Désiré) —  delivered a nucleus of dancing rigor that grounded and carried nearly-three-hours worth of ballet.  Without the technical prowess and emotive fire of the two women, in particular, L.A.B’s  cheery, streamlined version of the Sleeping Princess story might have looked thin. With their confident skills — Brosse playing up the fancy in a flicked wrist; Noelle using slow port de bras to convey healing benevolence —  the simple scenarios were rendered as smart and elegant. The new little touches that Christensen and Neary built into the choreography, like a blind’s man bluff game elaborated with riding crops, are enjoyable, but it’s surely the bountiful evocation of traditional phrases that Neary and Christensen coached from both the principals and the terrific young ensemble dancers that linger in the memory.

On Saturday, Brosse’s lilting Aurora hit every pivotal mark: gathering four blooms from her suitors in the famed Rose Adagio with perfect balance, as if we were watching all the blessings she’d received in infancy take flower inside of her. Raising her back leg more and more firmly in attitude as she went on, she was so elevated with power and success by the end that the fast little beat she delivered to her ankle before freezing into her final pose of the scene was like a hat toss in the air.

At the next two theaters, the Alex Theatre in Glendale and UCLA’s Royce Hall, Alleynne Noelle and Julia Cinquemani will each take a turn as Aurora, and Brosse will perform as the Lilac Fairy.  Shimizu is the only scheduled Prince. After watching this Tchaikovsky Trilogy year — a season of memorable, home-run principal performances in big ballets — audiences will surely, undoubtedly, start to cheer their favorite L.A.B. lead dancers loudly, right out the gate, by next year.

The caliber of musicality and interpretation in this evolving company is so good, its starting to throw its taped musical accompaniment into sharp relief. What to tell the young German college student, paying his first-ever visit to Los Angeles, who walked beside me, sharing appreciative smiles for the show as we exited, who said: “This was very good — but excuse me for my question.” He paused with a quizzical expression. “Is there always taped music for this ballet?”

“The Sleeping Beauty” continues at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Saturday March 21 and Royce Hall, UCLA, on Saturday and Sunday March 28-29. For information and tickets:

by Jean Lenihan

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